Over 1600 people have been killed in serious crime in the Western Cape over the past six months, most of them in gang-related violence. Following several urgent calls for the government to address escalating gang violence and crime on the Cape Flats, government structures agree the situation is in a crisis and are hoping to implement a holistic plan. MEC for Community Safety Albert Fritz and the City of Cape Town’s safety and security directorate head Jean Pierre Smith, held a press briefing on Thursday, following an urgent a meeting with key stakeholders.
This included the Acting Provincial Police Commissioner Major General MM Manci, SAPS officials and the Metro Police, who discussed possible interventions. The head of police’s Anti-Gang Unit (AGU) André Lincoln and head of detectives Major-General Jeremy Veary had issued letters of apology for not attending.
MEC Fritz says the meeting was positive and a number of resolutions were made. This included addressing the internal issues and functionality of structures such as Saps, Metro And Safety Forums. One of the major concerns is the lack of communication between the departments and severe politicking and in-fighting.
The pair called for weekly meetings between Metro police and SAPS to be re-instituted.
“Today we had a productive meeting. As could be expected, the exchanges were robust and in the spirit of finding constructive solutions. The meeting focused on addressing the major bottlenecks that mitigated against more effective coordination, cooperation and joint planning between SAPS, Metro Police, DOCS and other law enforcement agencies. In this regard, there was agreement to urgently address immediate deployment of senior SAPS officials to the Traffic Management Centre (TMC) where much of the crime related CCTV footage of the City is coordinated and analysed. It was also agreed to rapidly improve the workings of the various priority committees of the Provincial Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (PROVJOINTS) – which is a key structure aimed at establishing stabilisation and normalisation,” said Fritz.
Smith has welcomed the call for stabilization of Western Cape police, noting that an inquiry into police politicking may assist in strengthening the force.
Smith pointed to the lack of effective information sharing and encouraged the government to ensure that there is regular engagement between departments.
Fritz said infighting within the police service needs to be dealt with urgently and departments need to work together.
The Anti Gang Unit has also come under fire following a spike in gang violence and murders since after the May Elections. Fritz said that statistics substantiated the number of deaths since then. He noted however that greater focus is being put on 10 hotspots including Hanover Park, Lavender Hill, Mitchells Plain, Manenberg and Bonteheuwel.
Smith noted that the police force should be commended for attempting to create a safer environment by making arrests but stressed that what should be prioritized is the conviction of criminals. He also noted that the City has implemented several empowerment, rehabilitation and other social programmes for youth but that if the crime and violence they are exposed to is not addressed, this will reap few results.
The availability of illegal guns has also contributed to criminality. Among the proposals were for the establishment of an “ammunition registers” that will act as a centralised database and allows police to track the sale of ammunition. Police could also be incentivised for retrieving illegal firearms.
Fritz said they will continue to roll out youth programmes in affected communities to assist in preventing the youth from being on the wrong side of the law.
Despite convictions that are successful, it is widely believed that prisoners still have access to non-essential items such as cellphones and drugs. Fritz said they are hoping to install cellphone signal blockers “because there are criminals instigating crimes from behind bars.”
“Most gang-related crimes are planned in prison. They all have cellphones. You can block certain areas from receiving cell coverage, so why can’t we do that with our prisons?
He also emphasized the need for the government to introduce crime intelligence, having said that police reported this as being a major obstacle.
Following hundreds of complaints by community members that criminals are allowed to roam free, Smith said issues of bail and parolees are going to be looked at.
“It’s essential that we oppose bail of gangsters more effectively. The issue of releasing parolees without consulting the communities is wrong. A whole lot of people have been released on parole.”
Smith said around 100 “neighbour in safety team” volunteers will also be deployed to Delft next week, after which similar efforts will be made to other hotspots.
With R25million of the budget invested into additional resources, the overtime budget has also been revised to cater to increase time spent in the field.
According to a statement by the MEC, the Provincial response to the National Anti-Gang strategy had been drafted and was currently out for comment from various stakeholders. The final draft would soon be presented to Cabinet for ratification.